Syria Direct: News Update 9-3-15

Latakia car bomb shatters confidence in a safe city

For the first time in four and a half years of war, a car bomb exploded in Latakia city, killing as many as 17 people in the northeast al-Hamam Square, which citizens had believed to be secure due to its majority Alawite, military-family residents, Latakia-based journalist Salim al-Amar told Syria Direct on Thursday.

The area surrounding al-Hamam square is “extremely secure, in order to even get through to it, a car has to get through dozens of checkpoints,” explained al-Amar.

“It’s so tough to get to that people are even pointing fingers at the regime, saying it carried out the bombing,” the journalist said. The explosion occurred in the same area that witnessed protests against the son of Bashar al-Assad's cousin, Suleiman al-Assad, in August for killing an air force colonel.

Following the blast, regime security personnel reportedly arrested two would-be-bombers, of unknown identity and affiliation, attempting to drive their explosives-laden vehicles into Latakia to ostensibly execute yet further attacks, reported state news agency SANA on Wednesday.

Syria’s Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi condemned the attack, calling it “a cowardly deed,” [that] “will not stop the Syrian people from thwarting the terrorists’ war,” noted the same SANA report.

No party has claimed credit for the blast.

Deir e-Zor executions highlight underlying divisions within IS ranks

The Islamic State (IS) executed three young men in a town in the western countryside of Deir e-Zor for “smuggling goods into blockaded regime-controlled areas” of the provincial capital, a member of the Syrian Revolution Coordination Union told Syria Direct Thursday.

“The three were quickly executed on Wednesday by firing squad,” said Abdullah Abu Zaid, adding that IS at the time also held 13 other individuals on similar charges, but it was not immediately clear whether they were also executed.

The executions come after the IS governor of Deir e-Zor, Abu Salah al-Jablawi, issued a decree Sunday ordering the expulsion of all residents of the province’s western countryside within 48 hours based on reports that some were smuggling food and supplies into the regime’s two encircled districts in Deir e-Zor city, said Muhammad Hasan, a correspondent with pro-opposition Sound and Picture, to Syria Direct Tuesday.

The decree ignited tense confrontations between local IS members who opposed it and foreign IS partisans who supported it, triggering a revised decision by the governor ordering the expulsion of populations from only four western villages.

The Islamic State removed al-Jablawi from office on Monday, Hasan told Syria Direct Thursday, adding that the “primary reason” for his dismissal was the intra-IS conflict.

IS replaced al-Jablawi with the previous head of the Hisbeh, or the Islamic police, Abu Adnan a-Shami, reported pro-opposition Al-Hal A-Suri on Wednesday.

 Jabhat a-Nusra captives in Idlib. Photo courtesy of Hadi al-Abdallah.

Alawite after 3 years as Nusra prisoner: Iranians are priority 

A prisoner exchange in the Idlib countryside on Wednesday highlights the “discrimination” of the regime in negotiating for its own, according to one prisoner held for three years by Jabhat a-Nusra.


“We saw great discrimination between Syrian captives on the one hand and the Lebanese and Iranian prisoners on the other,” one of the Syrian prisoners told Hadi al-Abdullah, a well-known opposition reporter covering Idlib, in a video covering the exchange. 

“If an Iranian is captured, his exchange is arranged for immediately,” the unnamed prisoner said.

Four of the seven opposition prisoners released by Nusra were from the Alawite town of Ishtabraq. Their names were posted by a pro-regime community Facebook page from the town.

Regime soldiers who were held prisoner by rebels in Al-Hasakah expressed similar views in a video circulated by opposition news sources in January, warning Syrian Alawites that the regime would not negotiate for their exchange.

The exchange comes in the wake of protests on Monday and Tuesday calling on the regime to take action to save the residents of the rebel-encircled Shiite villages of al-Fuaa and Kafariya.

Turkey donates 1,200 tons of flour to Idlib

The Free Idlib Provincial Council in the rebel-controlled northwestern province received 1,200 tons of flour from the Turkish government on Wednesday to “provide for the needs of civilians and displaced people,” in Idlib towns, a member of the civilian council said, amidst questions about the efficacy of the donation.
 
Wednesday’s delivery is part of a broader Turkish plan to “present 10,000 tons of flour to Idlib province and the liberated [rebel-held] areas in Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces,” Ziyad Tabash, president of the council’s Bakeries Committee told pro-opposition Smart News on Wednesday.
 
Approximately 30 bakeries in Idlib province would benefit from an initial delivery of the flour, Tabash said. The presidents of local councils currently administrating rebel-held towns and villages in the province will oversee its distribution, the Free Idlib Provincial Council posted on its official Facebook account Wednesday.
 
However, some questioned what impact the donation would have on Idlib residents.
 
“The price of bread will not fall for a number of reasons,” Obaideh al-Omar, an activist in Idlib countryside told Syria Direct on Thursday, among them “the lack of flour stores in Idlib, the large number of displaced people and the expense of mazot fuel.”
 
“When you talk about 1,200 tons of flour distributed to all the liberated cities and towns in Idlib, the amount is only enough for two days.”
 
The cost  of bread varies widely from province to province in Syria, with availability of the basic commodity spotty at best in part due to regime airstrikes on bakeries and breadlines as well as blockades in multiple provinces. In Idlib, its price currently hovers around SP50 per bag (approximately $.26).